Phosphorus and Nitrogen Contamination Ravaging Florida Waters

Phosphorus and Nitrogen Contamination 

Florida's soil is naturally high in phosphorus. But if too much nitrogen and phosphorus enter the environment, the air and water can become polluted. This impacts many coastal waters, lakes, rivers, and streams, resulting in environmental and human health issues.

Some sources of nutrient pollution are fertilizers, animal manure, soil erosion, stormwater, wastewater from our sewer systems, and certain household products like soap. Runoff from these sources can result in excessive phosphorus in nearby bodies of water.

Toxic cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) blooms are triggered by the release of high phosphorus concentrations in the water. These blooms can produce toxins that are harmful to mammals and humans. It can also affect our drinking water. Farms, lawns, septic tank leaks, golf courses, landscaping, and even Orlando theme parks can contribute to these harmful algal blooms.

For decades, runoff from farmers has resulted in heavy phosphorus fertilizers going into Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades. The fertilizer runoff produces blooms that kill fish and wildlife. In 1988, the federal government sued the state of Florida over phosphorus contamination. The state established artificial wetlands called Stormwater Treatment Areas on former agricultural land to help clean it up.

Excessive phosphorus and nitrogen not only threaten water quality but human health. Research has connected blue-green algae to Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS) and found a toxin produced by cyanobacteria called BMAA. The neurotoxin can cause brain changes that resemble Alzheimer's.

There are different solutions to these growing issues, like limiting pollution at its source, better laws to protect the environment, and establishing limits on pollution that's protective of health. We can also take action through our personal choices by looking for non-toxic solutions.

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Stel Bailey

Stel Bailey, a cancer cluster survivor and environmental health advocate, is a researcher and journalist with more than two decades of multimedia experience, having been published globally.

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